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of Rome-the mechanics who followed Jack Cade being represented as thoroughly despicable as those who hooted Coriolanus and applauded Cæsar and Mark Antony.

Thou hast most traitorously corrupted the youth of the realm in erecting a grammar school ; and whereas before our forefathers had no other books but the score and the tally, thou hast caused printing to be used ; and, contrary to the King, his crown and dignity, thou hast built a paper-mill.—Jack Cade to Lord Say (Henry VI.-2d Part.) Was ever feather so lightly blown to and fro as this multitude ?—Cade.

Look, as I blow this feather from my face,
And as the air blows it to me again,


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Such is the lightness of your common men.

--King Henry VI. (3d Part.)
You common cry of curs, whose breath I hate
As the reek o' the rotten fens.-Coriolanus.


One of the most interesting of all the questions in relation to the personality of Shakspere is that pertaining to his religious notions and belief. What was that belief, and

, can it be educed from his writings? We think it can, and

, with some approach to accuracy, although undoubtedly a good deal must still be left for inference and hypothesis. The author of the dramas, according to our conception, was a sincerely pious and reverential man; but just as his artistic genius seems to have wavered between tragedy and comedy,“ inclining to them both,” so did his mental constitution hover between the extremes of seriousness and mirth. Not for ever could he be the witty and volatile Mercutio, nor could he always be in the mood of the melancholy Jacques. No doubt he ruminated as deeply as his own Hamlet on the soul, death, and an hereafter, and on the transitory character of all earthly things; then, mayhap, he might catch the mood of Autolycus, and say with that careless rogue, “ For the life to come, I sleep out the thought of it."

(“ Winter's Tale.") What Don Pedro

(” says of Benedick appears to us to be a true reflex of a phase of Shakspere himself. 6. The man doth fear God,” he

says, “ howsoever it seems not in him, by some large jests he will make.” (“ Much Ado about Nothing.") This much appears certain, that Shakspere's intellect was too piercing and speculative to rest in content with the common range of religious dogmas current in his day. Whatever his beliefs in reality were, he was assuredly not a Roman

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Catholic, as some writers have imagined him to have been. No believer in the Papacy could possibly have put such words as he has into the mouth of King John whilst defying the Pope-words which, as remarked by Archbishop Whately, we seem to hear coming direct from Shakspere himself, and from no one else. Nor is it in any wise more possible that an adherent of the Catholic Church could be so ignorant of its ceremonial as to make one of his characters (Juliet to Friar Laurence) commit the absurdity of mentioning

evening mass; or, as in another play(" Titus Andronicus”) allow an interlocutor to speak of “ Popish tricks and ceremonies ;" or (in“ King John') reject absolution by deriding those who

Purchase corrupted pardon of a man,

Who in that sale sells pardon from himself. A like objection pertains to the idea of Shakspere being a Papist in his ridicule of the notion that any miraculous virtue pertains to the shrines of saints (“ Henry VI."); indeed, no one except an absolute opponent of Papal pretensions could have brought forward Simpcox to expose the tricks practised at these resorts of the credulous.

But Shakspere, it is said, has in “Hamlet” countenanced the notion of purgatory. So he has to a certain extent, for the Ghost tells his son that he is

Doomed for a certain time to walk the night,
And for the day confined to fast in fires,
Till the foul crimes done in my days of nature

Are burnt and purged away. An expression like this, however, is too slender a basis on which to found belief in any doctrine, and would seem rather to indicate that Shakspere did not believe in the dogma of eternal punishment, which, with his high sense of justice and abounding mercy for sinners of every class, must have been abhorrent to his ipmost soul.

Shakspere, then, was no Papist. Just as little likely is it that he in any way sympathised with the Puritans, whose name scarcely ever occurs in his plays unless in a contemptuous manner, and whose opposition to stage performances threatened more than once to foreclose his means of existence—who, in fact, in the age succeeding, made fear ful havoc amongst powers and principalities, almost burying the works of Shakspere for ever in the general convulsion. A third hypothesis is that which has been advocated at great length in a book by Mr Birch, to the purport that

Shakspere was a simple Atheist, a scoffer, and an unbeliever—a theory the most untenable, of all, and on which Mr Birch himself throws infinite discredit by the wildest. displays of disingenuousness which perhaps ever disgraced a printed book.

As far as we can perceive from the works, Shakspere was neither Atheist, Papist, nor Puritan. He had looked too deeply into the mysteries of things (“ In Nature's infinite book of secresy a little I can read"*), and had expressed too frequently his sense of dependence on divine Providence (“ In the great hand of God 1 stand"t) to have any sympathy with the negation of a Creator in which Marlowe professed to believe. Still, to determine precisely what form or forms of religion he believed in is not so easy. The age of Shakspere was one of an intensely transitional character. Popery was in his early days extensively believed in, and the dogmas of the English Church had not become so fixed in the minds of the people as to stifle doubts and inquiries. There was thus much religious incredulity abroad, which we know was shared in, among others, by the master-spirits of Bacon and Raleigh. That Shakspere participated to some extent in the prevailing scepticism of the times we make no doubt, although to what extent cannot easily be predicated. But let us go to the foundation at once, and endeavour to make out what his opinions were on a point which lies at the bottom of all religious belief, we mean the immortality of the soul. In the early poem of “ Lucrece" the following stanza occurs; it tells its own story :

Here she sheathed in her harmless breast
A harmful knife, that thence her soul unsheathed.
That blow did bail it from the deep unrest
Of that polluted prison where it breathed.
Her contrite sighs unto the clouds bequeathed

Her winged sprite ; and through her wounds doth fly

Life's lasting date from cancelled destiny.
In the same spirit is the exclamation in Richard II. :-

Mount, mount, my soul, thy seal is up on high,

Whilst my gross flesh sinks downwards here to die. The Friar says, on Juliet's death, that

Heaven hath all,

And all the better is it for the maid ; and Balthazar, on the same occasion, speaks of her immortal part” as living with angels.

Lorenzo tells * The Soothsayer in " Antony and Cleopatra."

+ Banquo in “Macbeth."

Jessica of the harmony which is in “ immortal souls ;" Hamlet, also, speaks of his soul as being " a thing immortal;" and Macbeth gives to Duncan the dread alternative of “ heaven or hell.” But as compared with these, there are several passages which read in an entirely different way. A contrast of a rather remarkable character occurs at once. Romeo and Juliet, the presumed Christian lovers, have not a word to say in dying, neither the one nor the other, respecting the life after death, whilst the Pagans, Antony and Cleopatra, are in death full of the most ardent anticipations of meeting again in the spirit world :

I come, my queen

stay for me!
Where souls do couch on flowers we'll hand in hand,
And with our sprightly port make the ghosts gaze.





Husband, I come.
Now, to that name my courage prove my title.
I am fire and air-my other elements
I give to baser life.*
If she first meet the curled Antony,
He'll make demand of her, and spend that kiss

Which is my heaven to have. Upon what principle of art Shakspere wrought in preserving such a distinction between the two pairs of dying lovers we shall not pretend to say: Nor can we explain why in so many of the plays the idea of an after life is so plainly ignored. The philosophy of “ Measure for Measure” is depressingly gloomy and material. Claudio, like Hamlet, clings to the present through fear simply of the future, which is all unknown, and unvisited by any ray of Christian hope or assurance, and the Duke is made to say that the best of rest is sleep, and death is no more.' In the exquisite dirge over Fidele, no other life is alluded to than the present. Even the beneficent Prospero has nothing better to mention, in contemplation of the dissolution of all earthly things, than that “ we are such stuff as dreams are made of." Jacques moralises on man with reference only to his end here—sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything." And Macbeth, apparently forgetful of what he had said as to Heaven and Hell before the murder of


* The curious reader may perhaps note that the terms used to express the ethereality of the soul by Cleopatra had already, in an earlier play (“King Henry V.”) been applied by Shakspere to a horse. The Dauphin, in describing to Orleans a favourite animal (Act 3), says that “he is puro air and fire; and the dull elements of earth and water never appear in him."



Duncan, at his own end limits the prospect to this present life, which he calls “ a walking shadow, a poor player”“ a tale told by an idiot"_“ signifying nothing.

There are certainly strange and puzzling inconsistencies in such expressions, intensified by Shakspere's frequent comparison of this life to the occupation of the actor and the passing character of the scenes in a theatre, which we shall not attempt to reconcile. His last will and testament would lead us to believe that he died a Christian, and with that assurance we may rest content.

On another point connected with religion Shakspere is unfortunately only too explicit-its ministers he cannot tolerate! In most instances they are introduced only to be caricatured; or, if otherwise good men, they appear with maimed and defective characters. His historical Cardinals are for the most part represented as wicked and unprincipled men, and certainly no criminal painted by his hand makes a more fearful end than Cardinal Beaufort.

Macaulay, in his Essay on “ Lord Burleigh and his Times,” ventures on the remark that “ the partiality of Shakspere for friars is well known;" but this must have been a mere slip of the pen. Friar Laurence, the most favourably drawn of all Shakspere's religious officials, scarcely pretends to religion at all, and for the dire misfortunes of Romeo he has no higher consolation to administer than “ Adversity's sweet milk, Philosophy.” Other uncomplimentary allusions to monks and friars abound. In “ All's Well that Ends Well,” the Clown says that amongst other things which fit to each other is “the nun's lip to the friar's mouth," and the maxim that “ every hood does not make a monk” is more than once quoted in the plays. In other respects the treatment of religious officials of all kinds is somewhat similar--a circumstance the more to be noted, because if Shakspere professed any distinct form of faith, it must have been the Protestantism of the Church of England. “ He is a good divine," says Portia, “who follows his own instructions." The same sentiment is embodied in the caution of Ophelia to her brother that he should not, “ ag some ungracious pastors do," show her a way to Heaven which he would not follow himself. Laertes stigmatises the minister at the grave of Ophelia as a “ churlish priest,

" and speaks of his sister as a " ministering angel, ” whilst the priest will “ lie howling” in a place not to be named. Other illustrations occur, in which ministers of religion are condemned out of their own mouths, such as the Welsh

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